Unsightly Ring

I’ve had VR on the mind lately. Not because I want to, more because, as the next hot product/content


May 31 · Issue #22 · View online
A periodic look into research threads on critical futures, strategy, post-normal innovation, providing a look over the shoulder of the team at Changeist. Each issue includes brief analysis, links, updates, and occasional auditory hallucinations.

I’ve had VR on the mind lately. Not because I want to, more because, as the next hot product/content ecosystem it’s saturating the mindspace at the moment. Our home base of Amsterdam seems to be in for a long hot VR summer as practically every tech-related event has featured some form of “sit in this chair and put the computer on your face” demo experience for attendees (to that end, I’m waiting for field reports from Lydia Nicholas, who ran the VR gauntlet this week at Campus Party in Utrecht). It’s this year’s Periscope, which was the previous year’s Vine, which was the previous year’s group selfie and so on back into the dark mists of time.
There is even a VR cinema in central Amsterdam that promises a half hour show for €12.50. Like 3D TV and film, and ancestral Victorian cinematographs more than a century ago (or simpler stereography), street crowds are being invited to “roll-up, roll-up” and become a swivelhead for a few not-quite-transporting moments. Thankfully, the “VR in a swing with a fan blowing on you” thing seems to have dissipated.
I’ve tried a number of these demos, most recently in an interesting party trick of a body swap with Natalie in Barcelona, which was an interesting view into what researchers claim can be achieved with a full-on VR experience, but I’m not convinced it can yet create the level of empathy more enthusiastic boosters claim.
Twitter friend Christopher Mims opines that a VR winter may be just around the corner. I sometimes disagree with his arguments, but here I tend to agree. Getting hardware costs down seems to have little to do with success at this point—putting underwhelming experiences on peoples’ faces at a lower price point was possible with Glass. Like mobile, it may draw more developers in, but the lure of a quick 99 cents hasn’t exactly driven a wealth of amazing content for mobile games (excellent indie creations are the small exception, but not exactly catalysts for wider auteurism). Even chatting with digital media and advertising folks this week at Futuro, it seemed hard to pin down just what VR will excel at, beyond games. “We’re sure there’s something, we’re just not sure what.” And overall awareness outside the bubble is not what you’d expect.
As folks who work in the futures field, we’re oddly expected to be bullish on VR (literally the phrase several people have used). I’ve even heard pleas to not rock the boat while this technology is in its infancy. There is a strong driver for a new set of platforms on which to develop hardware, software and media. You must feed the innovation shark or stops swimming—in this case keep pumping new development through the pipeline or budgets, jobs and relationships dry up. 
In particular, I’m not a VR troll per se, but we do need to take a deep breath and look at this technology rationally. Optimism that it may have some interesting applications does not have to mean optimism that its the next big thing.
Still, something will turn up. Maybe VR demos are the endgame? :)

On the Agenda
I’m on the way back from the aforementioned Futuro, a two-day event helpfully held on Ibiza thankfully in the two days before superclub season officially kicked off. Discussion ranged from emotional intelligence to personal bots to the future of fashion and work. I talked about the future of designing experiences of the future to a lot of people who shape the public view of the future. 
It was an eclectic venture, one of those events with more conversation happening on the fringes than under the literal tent. The event moved from its original dates, creating a bit of schedule chaos on our end, but it all happened in the end.
I’ve stopped to tag Barcelona on the way back to base and do some location scouting for our upcoming summer course on Innovation & Futures Thinking (sign up, there’s still time!) at IED Barcelona.
Natalie spoke at the Death Forum last week in Manchester, on data after death, the IoT and the complexity these present for future grief. She also wrote this well received piece on therapy bots for How We Get to Next. 
I’ll be speaking at an internal event series at the European Commission in Brussels, on June 21, looking at post-sovereignty and the emergence of Nation-as-a-Service. 
We also have a couple of Thingclash workshops upcoming, and will provide more detail when the events are made public.
Unsightly Ring
This week’s links are courtesy of Sjef van Gaalen, as I’ve been running in sand (literally).
'Oculus Face' Is The Sign Of Our Virtual Times | Popular Science
Stories About VR Are Boring, But Content Farms Keep Churning Them Out | Motherboard
Steve Baker's answer to How big an issue is the nausea problem for Virtual Reality products? - Quora
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